All for one and one for all

Harlan and Jones sacrifice to help the rest of the league

Here's an idea as the political season is about ready to kick off. Kick out the incumbent politicians and replace them with the leaders of the NFL's 32 teams. At least they know the meaning of the word cooperation, and they realize that they are but one link in a strong chain.

Republicans and Democrats can't agree on the color of the sky, much less how to divide the country's $12.5 trillion economic bounty. The NFL's owners might break a deadline or two, but they at least can figure out how to equitably spread out the league's $5.48 billion in revenues.

President Bush and Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy have nothing in common other than being rich. It shows, as they spar over matters trivial and important. Packers president Bob Harlan and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones have nothing in common, either, but when it comes to the good of the league, they share the same vision.

The Cowboys and the Packers are among the teams sacrificing for the greater good. Revenue sharing has been a fact of life in the NFL for decades, but the new collective-bargaining agreement approved Wednesday night upped the ante. The 15 teams with the highest revenue will contribute about $900 million over the next six years to divide among the 17 teams with the lowest revenue.

Harlan fought a long and hard battle to get the Packers from a low-revenue to a high-revenue team. He wagered every ounce of energy and bet his legacy on turning Lambeau Field from merely a football field into a year-round cash-generating facility.

The result is the showplace the Packers play in today. With it, the Packers rank 10th in the league in revenue. Now, the smallest market in professional sports is sharing its wealth with the likes of the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets and Giants, all of which rank in the bottom third in the league in revenue.

That, in itself, is amazing.

Almost as amazing, Harlan fully supported a package that will reduce the Packers' profit by about $20 million this year because of increased revenue sharing and an increase in the salary cap.

Harlan supported the collective-bargaining agreement because he knows the Packers' long-term viability depends on having the salary cap. While the Packers are among the richest teams in the league, that standing is tedious. Outside of selling naming rights to the stadium — imagine the uproar that would cause — it's hard to imagine where the Packers can milk any more money from the stadium.

"Continuation of the salary cap was our No. 1 goal because without it, the long-term viability of the Packers would be in doubt. The resulting new labor deal protects the future of the Green Bay Packers," Harlan said.

Money isn't a concern for Jones and the Cowboys. Dallas is the league's most popular team. Jones possesses a nearly bottomless checkbook. If any owner in the league would have benefited from the eradication of the salary cap, it would have been Jones. If any owner could have raised a stink about increased revenue sharing, it would have been Jones.

Instead of becoming the NFL's version of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, however, Jones, to borrow his words, put on his "league hat," sacrificing what would have clearly helped his team for what clearly will help the rest of the league.

There was a "recognition by the high-revenue clubs that we needed to do more revenue sharing, and we did that," Jones said.

Even Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who is renowned for throwing huge sums of money to land big-name players, recognized the need for helping the league's little guys instead of just helping himself.

"Some of us are contributing a little more than others, but we've been doing that in the past, as well. We just wanted to get this done for the sake of the league," Snyder said.

What the league and the players accomplished showed why the NFL is the premier league in professional sports. Instead of crying "me, me, me," in the NFL it's all about "we, we, we." While only a handful of teams can be perennial contenders in baseball and basketball, the NFL on Wednesday ensured that anyone can win on any given Sunday.

Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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